When you are insulted

Did Turnbull Malcolm speak too soon?

As the Dean Smith Bill was about to be receive its final reading in Parliament yesterday afternoon, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull proclaimed,

“Australia has done it. What a day for love, for equality, for respect.”

It’s attractive rhetoric, and perhaps Mr Turnbull really believes what he said, or maybe he’s just hoping for the best. Whatever is the case, Australia hasn’t disappointed because soon after he spoke these words, trending across Australia on twitter was hashtag Lyle. Even out doing many hashtags dedicated to celebrating yesterday’s decision, thousands of people are sending offensive tweets to Lyle Shelton, using all kind of base language in order to offend. Telling a fellow human being to eat excrement, in my opinion, is shameful. It doesn’t matter whether you agree with Shelton’s views or not, it is simply disgusting.

For those who may not be aware, Lyle Shelton is the Managing Director of ACL (Australian Christian Lobby), and he took a key role in the national campaign to uphold the classical view of marriage in Australia.

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No doubt Lyle Shelton is a controversial figure. Not every Christian would agree with everything he says or how he has said it, but his view of marriage is certainly in keeping with the Christian understanding. More than that, he is respectful and gracious when interacting with people, even those who send him verbal parcels of expletives and insult.

This national pronouncement of love and respect isn’t only being directed toward Lyle Shelton, but it has been a sad the trend throughout much of the debate on same sex marriage. Gay and Lesbian Australians have have been subjected to awful mud slinging, and many supporters of classical marriage have had all manner of insult and assault aimed at them. The difference between the two is that the latter has often found public and media support. Remember when Bill Shorten and other Federal members equating opponents of same sex marriage with haters and bigots?

Remember when comedian and Fairfax columnist, Benjamin Law, threatened to sexually assault Government MP, Andrew Hastie? Apparently, it’s not only ok, but it’s funny to make a joke about raping a politician. More humour from Mr Law last night,

“Now I am become Lyle, the eater of shit”

Even before the vote was taken on Thursday, throughout the day’s proceedings, the public gallery in Parliament continually interrupted MPs who dared suggest that Australia is likely to see a reduction of religious freedoms in light of changing the Marriage Act.  It was impossible not to see the irony, while fellow MPs referred to concerns over religious freedoms as “baseless”, the choir sitting in the public gallery repeatedly applauded and cheered in triumph when any MP suggested religious freedom would be reduced.

No doubt there have been many people from across the opinion divide who have expressed their views respectfully and who have been quick to speak against those who are hateful. Maybe I’m wrong, but I suspect that our Prime Minister’s words are already destitute. A truly pluralist and tolerant society is able to handle rigorous debate and can avoid jumping into the sewer. Last night and again today, thousands of Australians can’t contain their eagerness to take scoop down and start throwing it at high profiled defenders of classical marriage.

It’s not nice, it’s awful, but should we be surprised? Didn’t Jesus tell us in advance that this would happen? The final vestiges of our Christian culture have up til now served as padding against some of the slings and arrows of social outrage. Yesterday’s Parliamentary “victory” has been interpreted by thousands as justification to knock down those who didn’t support the cause. I suspect that for some, they’re simply letting off steam following months of anger and frustration, although I’m not sure that a justified reason.

While this was unfolding, I was preparing my sermon for Church this Sunday. At Mentone Baptist we are looking at Matthew ch.10. While the context of that passage is mission, and Jesus instructing his disciples how to go about mission and what to expect when they are sent into surrounding towns, it’s hard not to notice some relevance.

Jesus is forewarning his disciples that not everyone is going to welcome them and welcome their message. In fact, at times it’s going to be incredibly hard. People will turn on you, insult you, and even take you to court.

Jesus says, “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves (Matt 10:16). The combination of both qualities is essential: shrewdness without innocence can lead to deceitfulness and unkind methodology, and innocence without shrewdness can lead to naivety or to a foolish bravado. In other words, don’t be stupid and don’t be sinful. Don’t respond to trouble in kind.

While many Australians are today celebrating, many others are today disappointed and saddened by how easily our Parliamentary representatives dismissed the genuine concerns about religious liberties, don’t leap onto social media and say something stupid and sinful. Stop, think, and read these verses:

“8 Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. 10 For,

“Whoever would love life
and see good days
must keep their tongue from evil
and their lips from deceitful speech”. (1 Peter 8:10)

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Jerusalem and Gaza, the home for many

As Jerusalem makes headline news across the world today, as so often is the case, my mind turned to a letter written by a friend a couple of years ago. At the time, with his permission, I posted it on the Mentone Baptist Church blog. Again with his permission I’m publishing the letter here, because it brings to the fore an often forgotten group of people who are living in that most beautiful yet tumultuous land. His letter doesn’t concern Jerusalem per se, but it does bring a nuance, and timely theological reflection, to a context which is too often misunderstood in binary ways. It was written in 2014.

 

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G. Athas (2017)

Editor’s note: due to the sensitivity of the issues I have withheld the author’s name. It is written by a Christian friend from Palestine who now lives in Melbourne. I am publishing, with their consent, part of an email correspondence from last week that came about after I learnt that members of their family have been killed in Gaza in recent days. 

 

“It is a sad reality…our loss is for my dad’s cousin, and 2 of my second cousins.  My dad is somewhat bitter about the events dominating the land since 1948 and the gradual ethnic cleansing since, and his family (and my mothers) experienced much sorrow seeing Christians flee – taking with them the true heritage of the land. 

Over the years, we have experienced losses that are hard to understand.  Another of my first cousins was shot in the hip, though is alive, and cannot walk around properly.  He has 2 daughters that he struggles to feed because he cannot work.  Therefore my dad and I have supported him somewhat – including his extended family.  This particular incident happened a few years ago in the previous incursion.  He’s a believer and knows that the Lord has a plan – but he struggles.  They live day by day.  His daughter, my niece, did not really know that bananas were yellow, because she had never seen one in real life.  Another of my cousins died late last year because he was unable to obtain medical treatment, and he was my age, and had 3 children.  The family is in great pain knowing that he may have been saved, but was not.

In Australia and much of the west it is very easy to take essential provisions for granted.  Food, water, warmth, basic amenities, and the freedom to worship as a Church or body of Christian believers.  Such rights as voting, police protection, medical and health cover, or a simple roof over your head do not exist to many in Palestine.  Freedom to move around from suburb to suburb within the nation do not exist.  There is no right to external travel, and no right of return.  

 We pray for Christians to be strengthened during this time.  We pray that they will not lose hope, and that they will not blame God, or Christ for the suffering and anguish they endure at the hand of politics, greed and selfishness – the inherent heart of man!  I know they have not got the answers they so desperately seek and they yearn for understanding and adequate explanation.  It is most undoubtedly a difficult time for them (and us being somewhat helpless here), and it seems like there is no real end in sight.  Every day passes by without offering a hint of improvement.  Another day of this life passes by and it cannot ever be reversed.  I know that this eats away at them because they feel they cannot even enjoy the simplest of lives with their children and families.  Uncertainty and persecution is everywhere.  Many fall in despair and suggest God is only a God of the Jews, and hater of the Palestinians.  They consider God hated Ishmael – whereas instead God saved him in the wilderness, and blessed him bringing into his line 12 princes.  The pain distorts their view on God’s true love and equitable justice.  God is not the racist they often time feel He is portrayed as.

So we do sincerely appreciate your prayer, and love in action.  Nothing else helps.  Earnest and fervent petition to our Lord to hear the voice of His people (Christians), whom He loves.  To incline His ear and see their affliction, and turn and answer them and heal their pain – bringing them closer to Himself.  And while doing so, to bring many more others to His Name that were once lost that they too may worship the One True God.  Selah. Amen. 

 As believers, we know that Jews can’t bring true peace.  Muslims can’t bring true peace.  But the Lord of the Bible can.

 I pray this is the Lord’s will for that land.  But I fear more trouble comes first.”